Bullying: How Your Kid Wants You to Respond

Cathi Cohen, LCSW

Bullying is a huge topic in the news, in your kid’s schools, and in their lives. They have assemblies, campaigns, and zero tolerance policies in place. Obviously, much of what you hear about how to combat bullying is told from the vantage point of the adults. But what do the kids think? “I get teased a lot”.

This is the number one complaint of the kids we see in group therapy. As a practice whose primary focus is children, teens and young adults, we have been collecting informal data over the last seventeen years by treating hundreds of children and their parents in our Stepping Stones social skills groups. Hands down, the issue that troubles our kids the most is bullying.

Of course, our parents want to know how to react when their child tells them about being teased. So we have compiled the top responses from our kids in group to answer that question. Some of it may surprise you!


Here is what they DON’T want us to do:

5 Kid Don’ts for Parents

#1 Don’t Overreact: Stepping Stones kids warn parents about getting overly emotional in response to their bullying complaints. Children are often hesitant to talk to their parents about teasing. It’s a difficult subject to discuss and your child may be afraid of being judged. Getting upset may exacerbate your child’s feelings and make him/her feel you don’t have confidence in him/her.

#2 Don’t Say “Just Ignore It”: Kids know that parents say this when they are uncomfortable with the conversation about bullying. If ignoring bullying were a realistic solution, kids would be doing it already.

#3 Don’t Jump In to Solve My Problems: Kids tell us they have two problems with your jumping in to save them. #1 You may make things worse #2 They don’t learn how to solve the problem themselves.

#4 Don’t Tell Me to Fight Back: Many kids that we see in Stepping Stones are not aggressive kids. Fighting back is highly unnatural to them. When you suggest they fight, your child wonders if you think they are weaklings. The kids also say they are worried about getting in trouble and making things worse.

#5 Don’t Blame Me: The kids feel blamed and responsible for being bullied when the first questions you ask are “What did you do first?” or “Why did this happen? What were you doing?”

Does any of that sound familiar? Don’t despair. According to our kids, there are things you can do to help.


Here are the DO’S from kids:

5 Kid Do’s for Parents

#1 Do Listen to Me: Kids may talk about being teased in haphazard and vague ways. They may incorporate seemingly unimportant details and leave out ones that you view as critical. Your child is more confident in you understanding how they feel when you listen to the whole story being told their way. Even if they can’t get the words right, they are trying to explain it in a way that will get you to understand their feelings.

#2 Do Tell Me You Understand: Kids want to know that you empathize with them. It’s OK for you to tell them that the bull(ies) are wrong and the situation upsets you. At the same time, you want to express your confidence that you can work on the problem together.

#3 Do Stay Calm: Your child wants to know that you aren’t going to fly off the handle and act in a way that they perceive as making things worse. When you stay calm, they feel you will act in a way that will not make the situation worse.

#4 Do Listen to My Plan: Your child needs your vote of confidence. When you calmly listen to how they are planning to handle a tough situation, it makes them feel like you are an ally. You can make suggestions, but ultimately they want to know you trust their judgment.

#5 Do Know When It Is Time To Act: Your child trusts that you know when it is time to get involved in a bullying situation. When your child is harassed daily in-person or on-line, making it difficult to attend school or is getting physically hurt or threatened, they need to know that you will get involved.

I hope that giving a voice to the do’s and don’ts from the kids who are “in the trenches” has given you a fresh perspective on this subject. Share this information with your own children as a conversation starter and let me know what they have to say!